Mobile App Best Practices: How to Make a Mobile App that Attracts Customers Like Crazy

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One of the first questions people ask when they decide to launch a mobile marketing campaign is, “Do I need my own app?”

The short answer is no – you don’t have to have an app to get into mobile marketing. In fact, most businesses choose not to have an app because they’re labor intensive and can be a challenge to produce.

That said, there are some surprisingly easy ways to get into the world of app development. Just remember, there are hundreds of thousands of apps available to iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows users, so if you’re going to invest in an app for your business, be sure to reserve a good chunk of change to promote the app after you’ve developed it.

First Things First: What’s the Difference Between a Mobile Website and an App? A mobile website is just like a regular website only it’s designed for smartphones. An app is an actual software program that’s installed on a mobile device.

Let’s drill down on this distinction a little bit. An app is a program that’s been installed on your mobile device, much the same way you might install Garage Band or Microsoft Office on your computer. An app needs to be created for each platform individually. In other words, if you want your app to run on the iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows platforms, you’d have to create four different apps.

Another challenge with apps is that they typically need to be submitted for approval by the Apple, Google, RIM and Microsoft. In many cases, this isn’t too much of a hassle, but in some cases, it can be a real pain in the ass.

What’s more, in order for users to use your app, they have to download it from the app store, which is just one more barrier to entry.

Finally, every time you want to make changes or to upgrade your app, you have to go through an approval process again, which can be challenging.

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What Kind of App is Right for You? There are a variety of kinds of mobile apps and each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a partial list of the kinds of mobile apps that are currently in the marketplace:

  • Business Utilities: Business card scanners, calculators, spreadsheet programs, PDF readers, voice recording utilities, expense tracking, time tracking and others
  • Financial Tools: Stock market apps, utility trading apps, currency converters, news providers and others
  • Educational: Maps, books, flash cards, calculators, dictionaries and others
  • News and Information: TV and print newsfeeds, celebrity gossip, game highlights, stock information and others
  • Weather: Weather maps, forecasts, alerts, allergy reports, ozone reports and others
  • Navigation and Travel: Traffic maps, flight information, currency exchange, alternate route finders and others
  • Shopping: Amazon, eBay, Scoutmob, movie tickets, bookstores and others
  • Fun and Games: The Onion News Network, People Magazine, Fandango, Monopoly, Spin the Coke and Amercia’s Got Talent, to name a few
  • Social Networking: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all the other usual suspects. Plus applications that allow you to transfer information by simply bumping two smartphones together

Case Study: How Coca-Cola is Using Mobile Apps to Connect with Customers.  The Coca-Cola Company introduced the PUSH! + Play app as part of their ongoing efforts to go mobile.  The app is pretty simple – users are shown a series of bottle caps from various soft drinks provided by The Coca-Cola Company including Fanta, Pibb, Sprite and, of course, Coca-Cola.

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People using the app are encouraged to memorize the order in which the bottle caps light up and beep. After each go-round with the beeping bottle caps, a new one is added. Users race against the clock to see how many bottle caps they can remember before time runs out.

The game is a good one because it’s easy to play and it’s habit-forming. (For any app to be successful, it has to be habit-forming or, at a minimum, it has to give people a reason to use it over and over again.) The game also has a viral aspect to it, which helps keep it in front of new players. What makes the app particularly useful for Coca-Cola is that it deepens customer’s relationship with the brand by providing interesting trivia about Coca-Cola products between each session.

The result is a double-whammy – the app provides a way for Coca-Cola to drive home it’shappiness positioning and provides the user memorable information about the Coca-Cola legacy.

This is not the first and only Coca-Cola app. In fact, it’s one of more than three dozen different apps for The Coca-Cola Company’s various brands. It’s clear that the folks at Coke’s Atlanta headquarters have decided that mobile apps are a terrific way to stay connected with their customers throughout the globe.

Generating Revenue with Appvertising. Of course, it’s one thing to create apps that build brand awareness and it’s another thing entirely to create an app that generates revenue. But that’s exactly what AutoWeek did with its iPhone app.

AutoWeek is a traditional magazine publisher that realized that it needed to engage readers on their mobile devices. The challenge was that users are often reluctant to pay for content delivered via mobile website or mobile app. So, AutoWeek partnered with AdMob (Google’s advertising network) and created an app that would be monetized using mobile ads. Their goal was simply to recoup their app development costs by earning revenue from the ads placed on their app.

In order to hit the ground running, AutoWeek ran display ads that linked users directly to landing pages within the app store. AutoWeek also ran ads inside more than 3,000 apps that are available in AdMob’s iPhone network. Their goal was to drive the maximum number of downloads in as short a period of time as possible so they could boost the app’s ranking inside the app store.

What were the results? AutoWeek was able to recoup their app development costs and earn revenue within the first two months because of their appvertising program. Their campaign to boost the app’s rankings within the app store also worked – in the U.K., the app jumped from number 18 to number 5 and in Australia it jumped from number 90 to number 2.

All that said, it’s important to understand that the odds of getting rich running ads inside apps is very, very slim. Remember, the goal for AutoWeek was to 1) recoup their initial investment so that they could 2) cost-effectively engage with readers on a new and emerging platform. In that sense, the campaign was a big success.

If you decide to invest in an app, your goal should be to deepen your relationship with customers, not become an instant millionaire. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to become rich with a hugely popular app. In fact, it does happen every so often. But when you consider that there are tens of thousands of apps that generate zero revenue for every app that makes someone rich, you’ll know that the big idea behind apps isn’t about getting rich – the big idea is to provide new ways to connect with customers so that they deepen your relationship with your brand.

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How to Build Your Own App

If you decide that there’s a good reason to develop your own app, there are several approaches you can use.

The first is to contact a mobile app developer. When clients of my marketing communications firm (60 Second Communications) want an app, we’ll work with our resources to help create a customized version for them.

But you might be more interested in a do-it-yourself approach. If that’s the case, here are my thoughts on some of the better do-it-yourself companies out there:

  1. ShoutEm: This company allows you to design, develop and launch your mobile app with a minimum of fuss. They’re perfect for anyone interested in an easy solution for mobile app development.
  2. MobileRoadie: This is an app creator that allows anyone to create and manage their own iPhone app, Andriod app, iPad app or mobile website. The mobile website version is free. Mobile apps and iPad apps range from $99 per month to $299 per month.
  3. AppMakr: It doesn’t take long to build a mobile app with AppMakr. Just enter your URL and it’ll grab your content and start the process for you. AppMakr also provides tools for you to monitor the downloads of your apps.
  4. Appcelerator: When you’re ready to hit the big time, Appcelerator just might be the ticket. This is a major platform for serious app makers. They offer a lot of bells and whistles for the developer interested in doing some serious app development work.
  5. MobBase: This is an easy app development platform that primarily focuses on apps for people or organizations working in the entertainment industry. Ease-of-use is the order of the day for MobBase users.
  6. Mippin: These guys want everybody to have an app, and we mean everybody. If you’re a real estate agent, interior designer, accountant or even a large organization, Mippin may be the platform for you.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. Hopefully, it’ll give you the tools you need to design, develop and launch your own mobile app. Is there anything we missed? What about your favorite tools? Be sure to mention them in the comments section below.

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